exercises in compound storytelling

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Mexico elections

I love democracy. I really do. I love the simple elegance of well-informed voters casting votes that are then accurately counted with the majority prevailing. It's not a perfect system, and it relies on so much, and says so much: about the voters, about the issues, and of course about the system.

And then there's the article from today's Alibi, saying that someone named Jim Noel didn't report for work this past Monday:

Jim Noel sent a letter to Secretary of State Mary Herrera saying he wouldn't be reporting for duty Monday, Sept. 8, after all. This leaves New Mexico without a director of the Bureau of Elections less than two months before Nov. 4. Noel is the director of the Judicial Standards Commission, but another title spurred outrage from the state's Republicans—Noel is also the son-in-law of Rep. Tom Udall, who's in a close race with Rep. Steve Pearce for U.S. Senate. Noel's wife is Amanda Cooper, campaign manager for Udall and daughter of Udall's wife.

That's right: the Secretary of State for the state of New Mexico appointed the son-in-law of one of the candidates for an open Senate seat to be director of the Bureau of Elections.

And this from the Alibi, an Albuquerque-based free paper not often known for being a mouthpiece for the New Mexico Republican party. The article links to another Alibi article on roughly the same topic that mentions, among other things:

Three ballot boxes were discovered to be empty after the primary in Cibola County, where state Sen. David Ulibarri won over Clemente Sanchez by fewer than 10 votes.

Empty ballot boxes are kind of unusual, even in New Mexico, but late vote counts are not:

Why on the morning after an election does New Mexico not usually have its votes tallied yet? The main problem in the past hasn't been with the whole state, he says, but with Bernalillo County. (Secretary of State Herrera was the clerk in Bernalillo County from 2001 through 2006).

As for missing paper ballots in Cibola County, Ivey-Soto says he doesn't believe they're missing at all. "They were not where they were supposed to be, and they ended up getting reported as missing," he says. The county clerk opted to wait until a judge could be present to look for the ballots, he says, to avoid suspicion. The status of those ballots should be revealed soon.


Training election workers is difficult, he says, and that could be part of the problem. Each precinct has a polling place on election day, and an enormous amount of money is spent to set them up. Bernalillo County has more than 400 precincts. Even when two precincts are using the same polling location, each requires a precinct judge, two elections judges and two clerks. That's the case even though 30 percent of the voters cast their ballots early and another 30 percent vote by absentee ballot. "So we're spending 80 percent of our resources for 40 percent of the voters."

This last paragraph says two things: only forty per cent of votes are cast on election day, and each precinct (not each polling location) requires a staff of five.

If I recall correctly, early and late ballots are not necessarily counted; they're only counted if the election-day count is close enough that these ballots could sensibly change the outcome of the election. I don't remember what the rules are in New Mexico, and I can't seem to find them online.

Let's all hope and pray the 2008 Presidential election doesn't end in an Electoral College margin of less than five votes with New Mexico still left to count. New Mexico has a history of late, poorly-counted, poorly-monitored elections, and the person who was responsible for the worst-run county two years ago is now Secretary of State, and recently appointed an in-law of a candidate to run the elections state-wide. And all this with less than two months until election day.

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